There is a custom to recite Psalm 27 every day during the month of Elul, in preparation for the Days of Awe. As is so common with the recitation of psalms, the act of reciting is at least as important as the meaning of the words. This kind of recitation provides us with a spiritual discipline or technique to frame our reflections over the month of Elul. Instead of simply hoping that we’ll find the time each day to think about how we’ve lived out the year past and what direction we’d like to move in over the year to come, the psalm gives us a clear framework within which to do our thinking, our spiritual audit or cheshbon nefesh.
How does that work? In the beginning of Elul our concentration is on the words of the psalm, getting them right, pronouncing them correctly (if we say them in Hebrew) or attending to their meaning (if we recite the psalm in English). But as the days pass and our familiarity increases, we will find the recitation falling into a rhythm, like the rhythm of a poem or song.
The rhythmic sounds provide a backdrop for other thoughts that arise in our awareness. These are the thoughts that tell us what’s important to us at that moment in our lives. If we explore them a bit more, we’ll discover what in the year past led us to them and what we’d like to do with them over the year to come.
All this flows from the rhythm of our recitation. It is this stream of reflections that turns the psalm from an object of experience into a spiritual discipline. It forms a space within which self-awareness can arise. The psalm becomes a prayerful space, a space in sound rather than a physical space.
That’s the aim of reciting Psalm 27 through Elul. Why not give it a try and see whether it provides you with a space for yourself?
L’shana tova tikateyvu
--Rabbi Fred Morgan